I have been “reading” dictionaries for years, most consciously and proactively since the late 90s, but became fascinated by etymology and began using dictionaries as a learning tool for that study as far back as high school (late 80s). But I have yet to READ a dictionary, you know, like one might read a novel: front to back.
The notion is not unfamiliar to me; an old friend who was originally my first “cool” piano teacher (taught me theory and how to play Steely Dan songs instead of reading classical music exclusively) claims to have read the OED more than once. That is a claim I would dismiss out of hand coming from most people, but this gentleman is both intelligent and insane enough to have done it, and it fits his obsessive approach to learning in general.
The OED has long been my gold standard, but I also consult American dictionaries (the onboard New Oxford American English Dictionary on my Mac is seductively searchable and I have come to love having it at my fingertips, not to mention the front and back matter) and spend a lot of time on etymonline.com as well. I dream of having a shelf filled with various dictionaries from various times and for various languages (and locations for English). The online versions of the 1828 and 1913 editions of Noah Webster’s dictionary are particularly useful for tracking the changes in meaning, form, and use of words in American English.
I don’t know if my mother just named me well (Word is - literally - my middle name) or if this onomastic event itself gave rise to my love for words, but I am one of those people who can get lost surfing the OED. I live for those infrequent occasions when I can gather with a group of like-minded friends around the two volumes of the compact OED where people start throwing out unfamiliar words (“withershins” was a recent favorite) and learning how to use them in a sentence, or playing an informal etymological version of the game “dictionary” to see who can suss out the origin of a word knowing only its meaning and spelling.
Do you have a favorite dictionary? Do you have a reading practice with dictionaries? Have you ever considered reading one cover to cover? Do you still use hard copy dictionaries even with the profusion of dictionaries online?